Essential Assembly Hymns is a collection of 20 songs, both traditional and contemporary, suitable for singing during an act of worship. Songs range from wellknown hymns like ‘Morning Has Broken’ to modern ones such as ‘Here I Am To Worship’.
The piano parts, arranged by Rob Stroh, took me a little by surprise (after years of playing the same-old versions you get used to them), but they are very easy to play, even for an out-ofpractice pianist like me. The guitar chords are helpful, being in the G, C and D range for the most part, with the odd Bm bar chord thrown in to keep you on your toes. S!ng A Joyful Assembly, meanwhile, is a selection of 18 songs – three of which are warm-up exercises – with much less of a religious focus.
As with Essential Assembly Hymns, there is a music book with simple piano accompaniment and guitar chords, audio CD and a CD-ROM. The CD accompaniments are upbeat, with both vocal and backing tracks, and the Word on Screen CD-ROM is a useful addition to help teach the songs. It allows you to play a synchronised track where, as the song progresses, the lyrics are highlighted in pink, making them easy for every child to follow. Each collection, suitable for both specialists and non-specialists, has its positives – for example, the S!ng A Joyful Assembly book is more than just the music. There are also tips for encouraging good breathing, correct posture and warming up the vocal cords – all essential when singing. The contents pages provide at-a-glance information including a song summary, age suitability, musical style, brief teaching tips and the subject covered (which is particularly useful for those of us leading an assembly on a particular theme).
The well-designed Essential Assembly Hymnsbook is ring-bound, so it’s less likely to throw itself from the music stand, and the Words on Screen CD-ROM comes with a leaflet of instructions. I know, I know, I should have read them beforehand, but I’m a busy lady, so I had a little spell scratching my head before I discovered that the lyric screens in Manual Mode are moved along by the arrow keys rather than clicking with the mouse. The use of a non-fussy font and larger words on this CD-ROM is a well- thought-out touch too, bearing younger readers and those with SEN in mind. If I have one criticism it’s that, for me, the recordings are a bit fast. It might be a nice idea in future to include sloweddown versions that children can follow more easily when learning to play along. But if we’re stuck on our own in assembly and we need a ‘feel-good’ sing-along – well, that’s a different prospect.
I liked both of these collections; each of which costs £39.95 (book, audio CD and CD-ROM). The mix of old and new songs on Essential Assembly Hymns keeps things fresh, while the songs on S!ng A Joyful Assembly are upbeat with jazzy melodies and positive lyrics, pretty much guaranteed to get children bouncing and smiling along. It’s perfect for a feel-good assembly sing-along.